By Vanessa Remmers
PRINCE GEORGE, Va. — It was her worst nightmare.
Yvonne Goodman received a call Aug. 26 from her sister telling her that this would be the last time they would talk. It had only been two months since Goodman had buried her father.
Goodman, a nurse, rushed over to her sister's house in Burchett, about 13 miles from her home. She was the first to arrive at the home despite having called 911 before she drove over. Goodman's sister was still breathing when she arrived, but was actively seizing, she said.
Goodman called 911 again. It would be nearly half an hour from the first 911 call before an ambulance crew would arrive. Goodman's sister died that same day.
According to EMS records, a police officer arrived at the home at 4:45 p.m., 18 minutes after the call was dispatched.
A Fort Lee ambulance crew arrived 23 minutes after the fist 911 call at 4:50 p.m.
Goodman could not understand how it took almost half an hour before her sister received medical attention.
Goodman's case was similar to others who had come before the Board of Supervisors in recent months.
Becky Burdette buried her 88-year-old mother, Borgney Hampton, in November after she collapsed in their home in the Jordan on the James neighborhood.
Hampton was dead on arrival when an ambulance crew arrived at Burdette's home 33 minutes after her initial 911 call was received by Prince George Communication Center. Prince George EMS was not able to respond to Burdette's call because the one paid ambulance crew was answering another call. An ambulance crew from Charles City eventually answered the call.
When Burdette told her story to Prince George County supervisors in November, she argued that the county should support more than one paid ambulance crew. In October, the board granted a request from Brad Owens, the director of Fire, EMS and Emergency Management, to place a full-time, paid EMS employee in the Jefferson Park Fire Station during the peak hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The change did not add a position and did not cost the county any money, but placed a trained person in the station on a regular basis.
According to Owens, the change significantly improved EMS response times.
Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, the county EMS received 459 calls, according to a report by Owens. With the extra medic at the Jefferson Park station during the peak hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., response times decreased by an average of 7 minutes for that station. Response times for critical calls at the Jefferson Park station averaged 8 minutes, the report states. At other stations during the same time, the average response times to critical calls averaged 15 minutes.
Owens also noted that the staff addition prevented the station from requesting mutual aid from neighboring cities and counties 63 times.
"When Medic 5 was not staffed, there were 16 calls that mutual aid handled that could have been prevented," Owens said.
Adding more medics to the staff will reduce the burden on the larger base of volunteers that have increasingly been stretched thin as the county's population grew, Owens said.
"It will be the end of the volunteer system if it continues the way it is," Owens said.
Owens requested that nine additional positions be added to his staff of seven professional firefighter-medics to the tune of $664,000. That figure factors in possible major events or projects, wages as well as $27,000 for uniforms. Another $145,920 of the $664,000 would pay for part-time staff to fill the stations when others take off work.
Proposed funding streams for the staff addition included real property tax revenue, which would cost each citizen about $59 each year.
Owens also said that revenue recovery from the Fire & EMS department could be used to help fund new medics. Last year, the department recovered $516,000. Currently, over 250 active and associate volunteers support seven career firefighters or medics.
If Owen's request was fully approved, the county would staff 16 career firefighter-medics.
"That is the key, to have more crew and to have them work more regular shifts," Ashcraft said. "We didn't have a problem responding to fire calls. Our biggest concern is getting to the medic calls."
As budget talks get underway, Goodman echoed Burdette in arguing that it was time for the board to throw greater support behind EMS staffing.
"I hope you realize that we are not a small farming community anymore," Goodman said. "I'm asking you to please vote 'yes' for greater support for our first responders."
County Administrator Percy Ashcraft plans to present a budget proposal to the board Feb. 19.
"The board is still undecided at this point how many they are going to hire," Ashcraft said.
While budget work sessions will continue through February, the board already took steps to upgrade all six county volunteer stations, unanimously voting to repair damages within the Emergency Crew station in Disputanta. The Emergency Crew will see $147,101 worth of facility upgrades, which will come out of a fund with a current balance of $500,000.
General Services Director Bill Hamby said that contractors are ready to start working on the upgrades, and will likely be able to begin once the weather permits. The other stations will continue to be upgraded every six months.
"This is the most aggressive program to upgrade the volunteer stations in a number of years," Ashcraft said. "This would be a comprehensive plan that at the time of its ending that would have each station at least up to a standard that we could then begin to implement a full maintenance program."
Copyright 2013 The Progress-Index, Petersburg, VA
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